There has been a broad welcome for the GAA decision to delete Rule 21. The move means that members of Northern Ireland's security forces can now join the organisation.

The vote was taken at a special congress meeting in Dublin. A clear two-thirds majority supported the motion to delete the rule. The meeting was held in camera and the outcome was decided by a show of hands.

Delegates from Tyrone, Antrim and Armagh are believed to have spoken out against the proposal. In total only six speakers participated in the discussion and after a debate, that lasted less than an hour and a half, the rule was deleted.

The GAA decision has been welcomed by politicians North and South of the border.

In a statement this evening, An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: “As a life-long and deeply committed supporter of the GAA, I genuinely believe that the time had come to take this significant step and I am pleased the Association has done so”.

Mr Ahern added that the Good Friday Agreement and the policing arrangements that are being put in place in the North are creating the environment where Nationalists and Unionists can live together on the basis of partnership and mutual respect.

The Tánaiste said that she hoped that the development would contribute significantly to the process of normalisation throughout the North. Mary Harney added: “I believe this move will act as a powerful stimulus to young Nationalists on both sides of the border to join the recently established Police Service of Northern Ireland”.

The Tánaiste also congratulated GAA President Séan McCague and his predecessor Joe McDonagh for their “initiative and leadership” in bringing this about.

The Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan said that as a life long follower of the GAA, he congratulated the Association for the “generosity and courage” of its decision to remove Rule 21. He added that he hopes the abolition of the rule would help to strengthen inter-community relations on the island.

The Northern Secretary, Dr John Reid described the GAA decision as “a progressive decision made by an association that plays a large and important role in community life North and South”.

Stormont Sports Minister Michael McGimpsey said that the decision “comes at a time when we are moving forward on many fronts and will help us in our quest to build a conclusive society throughout Northern Ireland”.

Meanwhile, SDLP Deputy Leader, Bríd Rodgers called on all members of the GAA, including those who had reservations about the move, to respect and support the democratic decision taken to abolish Rule 21.

Mrs Rodgers said that in taking this decision the GAA had contributed enormously to the creation of an ambience within which a truly representative new policing service could take root.